Verbal Abuse: Anti-Trafficking Rhetoric and Violence Against Women

Sherief Gaber, “Verbal Abuse: Anti-Trafficking Rhetoric and Violence Against Women”. 2009 winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (School of Law, University of Texas at Austin).

No abstract available. Introduction:

There is a significant debate in contemporary feminist political thought and amongst activist organizations regarding the “trafficking of women” and the questions and problems attendant to this phenomenon. Furthermore, the work of many feminist groups now concerned with and often party to the exercise of state and international regulatory power has drawn a great deal of attention to trafficking within the United Nations, individual nation-states (particularly the United States) and a slew of increasingly powerful NGOs. These different organizations all operate at a similar structural and prescriptive level, using legal and normative models to enact protocols and legislation specifically naming, defining and acting on human trafficking. Regardless of the apparent fervor and media attention given to trafficking in recent years, the problem is still widespread, and there is significant criticism of existing trafficking models, both for their failure to achieve even stated goals, and for the way their definitions of trafficking – particularly sex trafficking – affect women.

Primarily, it is not within the scope of this paper to cut the knot tying structures that produce sex work and trafficking and the agency of sex workers. The author presumes here that sex workers, as much as any other individual or group, are capable of and do express agency – within the confines or limits established by given structural conditions – even if the sex workers operate in much more marginal(ized) positions. As such, the paper is concerned with the appropriation of the sex worker by anti-trafficking forces and how these forces interrupt potential agency – limiting and forcibly circumscribing what sex workers can and do achieve through organization and activism. The question then becomes how anti-trafficking rhetoric constructs the agency of the sex worker to justify and promote its own interventionist politics.

Full text available here.

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